Judge Maurice Cobbs found neither in this mediocre holiday offering.
What if the life you're living isn't the one you're meant to live?
Give me a stinkin' break.
Facts of the Case
Jane Berry (former Facts of Life star and TV-movie regular Nancy McKeon) is, for the most part, happy in her fast-paced, career-oriented single life. But when she loses control of her car and crashes into a telephone pole, she wakes up to find that she has been happily married to a handsome social worker (Steven Eckholdt) for ten years, has two adorable children (Andrew Chalmers and Jordy Benattar), and has quit her advertising job to be a housewife. Her divorced parents (Paul Dooley and Dixie Carter) are remarried, she volunteers at a homeless shelter and is head of her church group, and what the heck is going on here, anyway? How's she going to get back to her other life? And more important, does she even want to?
Christmas usually brings out the absolute worst in sugary holiday dreck. This isn't the worst in holiday dreck, not by a long shot, but it is virtually indistinguishable from a hundred other similarly themed movies, and if you've seen the Nicolas Cage holiday disasterpiece The Family Man, then watching Comfort and Joy will be a dose of déjà vu.
Granted, Nancy McKeon has a lot more charm than Cage does (not that that's saying a whole lot), and overall, this is pretty light and slickly packaged stuff, starting from the insanely peppy pop version of Deck the Halls that bookends the movie. Comfort and Joy is a virtual parade of exhausted stereotypes, even for a TV holiday movie: Jane's cartoonishly hip secretary Renee (Lindsay Leese) and her cartoonishly gay quartet of friends; the saintly best friend, Alison (Maria Herrera, Baby Monitor: Sound of Fear), who's all aglow with the joys of motherhood and condescendingly takes Jane to task for not downloading a couple of her own; the upwardly mobile self-absorbed jerk of a boyriend, Richard (Grant Nickalls), who can't stay off his cell phone long enough to enjoy luch with Jane; the handsome and sensitive yet hunky fantasy husband; the loud-mouthed and opinionated mother (Lifetime movie regular Dixie Carter); the hard-working, understanding, cuddly, old-fashioned father (Paul Dooley); and of course, the two adorable, apple-cheeked, obnoxiously well-behaved fantasy children who never so much as think of tormenting each other and even help feed sickly old homeless guys too weak to feed themselves. It's all carefully calculated mush, but director Maggie Greenwald keeps things moving along at a fast enough clip, pausing just long enough for the occasional heartwarmingly sentimental montage, so that the viewer never has time to pause and reflect on just how vapid the entire production is.
Comfort and Joy is completely unremarkable in every way, so average that absolutely no one could object to it—well, no one except me, of course. There's a slightly insidious undercurrent to Comfort and Joy that slowly came into focus as the movie played out. The movie is rather smug in its assertion that no one, especially a woman, can be happy if she's career-oriented. As happy as a woman might think she is being single and devoted to her high-paying corporate job, secretly she yearns for the simpler pleasures of home and family, and a successful job and all the perks that go with with that cannot compare with the joys of raising children. That's bad enough, but the film goes on to reenforce the tired old baloney that asserts that the only way to self-fulfillment is through self-sacrifice, a highly dubious statement, at best. In the behind-the-scenes feature, the cast and crew (except, oddly, for Nancy McKeon) all echo the same sentiments, speaking of the the Jane who lives for her job and "material wealth" as if she is some sort of black sheep, the visiting cousin who just doesn't get it and embarrasses the rest the family at gatherings. What's wrong with Jane? they seem to ask. In the movie, even Jane herself rails aginst the convention that we're all happier poor and with kids: "What was wrong with the old Jane?" she demands. "I like the old Jane." She seems to be the only one, even though hubby Sam claims that he liked the old Jane as much as the new one (despite the fact that he's indicated quite the opposite throughout the rest of the film). Of course, this is the sort of mindless pabulum that audiences expect and even seek out during the Christmas season, so finding it here is no real surpirse. Still, it's rather insulting—give it a rest, guys.
While the folks at Lifetime could have done something here with a little more originality, this is—as holiday-type movies go—the empty, mostly harmless sort of fluffy stuff that we've come to expect to clog the airwaves all throughout December. Hey, at least it's not yet another retread of A Christmas Carol, right? Somebody needs to put about a 20-year "do not film" moratorium on that chestnut.
There's no real crime here that hasn't been committed by a hundred other TV shows and movies. Free to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Cast and Filmmaker Interviews
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